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Dilemma Of Ferguson Vs. City Of Charleston

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Dilemma

According to a recent federal government report estimated that 320,000 babies are born in the United States each year exposed to alcohol and illicit drugs while in the uterus. There is also a far larger number that have been exposed, in uterus to sedatives and nicotine. These babies are often at high risk for either abuse, neglect, or both. Normal maternal-infant bonding is difficult in the case of an irritable poorly responding newborn and a mother dealing with the guilt, low self-esteem, poverty, inadequate housing, and an abusive or absent partner or parent, which often accompany her own drug addiction. Sometimes a referral to child protection services may be given but nothing further can be done. The law decided not action could be taken against pregnant women using drug in the 2002 verdict of the 1999 case of Ferguson v. City of Charleston.

Case of Ferguson v. City of Charleston

The Medical University of South Carolina and the City of Charleston created a policy to test all pregnant mothers without consent due to the increase in use of cocaine by patients. Patients were unaware of the test and those who tested positive were arrested or threatened with arrest. The case was taken to the Court of Appeals and was found in favor of the city because the tests were reasonable under the reasoning of special needs.

The case was then taken to the U.S. Supreme Court because the tests were a violation of the fourth amendment and patients should have consented to the procedure. It was then over ruled 6-3 because they said that the tests were unreasonable unless the patients consented to it. The reasoning of "special needs" could not be applied here because the primary reason for it should be for the well being of the individual. In this case the courts believed the true reason for testing the women was more for Law Enforcement because they made patients go into substance abuse treatment programs or get arrested. Therefore the case does not fit under "special needs" and the actions of the Medical University and the City of Charleston were in violation of the fourth amendment.

Brief of Court Case

The petitioners brief began with the question that was being presented to the court. The question was whether the Fourth Amendment's warrant and probable cause requirements relating to the "special needs" exception was properly used to a discretionary drug testing program. Was the program made to target hospital patients and created primarily for law enforcement purposes? In the U.S. Constitution fourth Amendment it states, that the people have the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable search and seizures, shall not be violated. No Warrant shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The petitioner picked several aspects to look at first starting at the search policy that was used. The Policy as initially implemented and applied to four of the Petitioners required the immediate arrest of any patient when a search of her or her newborn resulted in evidence of cocaine. The patients arrested during the Policy's beginning months received no referral for drug treatment and no opportunity to obtain treatment as an "alternative" to arrest. Even after these women were arrested, no one associated with the Search Policy provided them with any information about drug treatment services.

The next aspect looked at was the lack of search warrant or consent. No search warrants or court orders were given to the women before urine was collected and searched. Patients didn't provide specific consent for searching their urine and nor did the patients know the hospital's confidentiality policy did not apply to these pregnant women. The hospital did have two consent forms but neither were sufficient consent to warrant search where information would be given to law enforcement. Even the hospital's General Counsel admitted that he was concerned that the consent forms were inadequate. All other forms relating to the Search Policy were given to the women after they had tested positive for cocaine. Without warrant, subpoena, or court order the hospital gave not only the positive drug test results to police but as well a copy of the patient's discharge summary, containing confidential medical information such as the patient's medical history, information on sexually transmitted diseases, sterilization procedures and HIV status. Patients testing positive were also tracked as part of the Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect ("SCAN"). Information on each of the patients was disclosed without their consent and without a warrant.

Another aspect is the grounds for arrest under the Search Policy women who tested positive for cocaine could be arrested or threatened with arrest for the crimes of possession of drugs, child neglect, or distribution of drugs to a person under eighteen, depending upon the point in pregnancy at which their cocaine use was discovered. The Search Policy applied at all stages of pregnancy, both before and after fetal viability. Captain Roberts testified, "The hospital and the police were involved at every step of the process that led to a pregnant woman's arrest. Nurse would file a complaint, inform them when a patient who had tested positive was about to leave the hospital, and help coordinate the woman's in-hospital arrest." One Petitioner was detained in the hospital after she was medically ready to leave in order to facilitate her arrest by the police. Women subject to arrest were, in some instances, denied the opportunity to change out of their hospital gowns or to make a phone call to family members to make arrangements for care of their children. Some women were arrested while still bleeding, weak and in pain from having just given birth. A few other women were put in handcuffs that were attached to a chain that circled their abdomens and were also placed in leg shackles when they were taken into custody. A blanket or sheet would be placed over the woman then she would be wheeled out of the hospital to police car and transported to jail.

The Search Policy was not effective in improving fetal health because it did not reduce cocaine use or increase the number of women successful in completing drug treatment. The Search Policy was told by Dr. Chasnoff prior to its beginning that it would not improve fetal health if anything it would hurt it because expecting mothers would not prenatal care that is needed, in fear of being arrested.

The respondents' brief was filed July 24, 2000, fifty-three days after the petitioners

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